Milton Miles, 52Current Caretaker, Former Block Resident
History: Grew up in the home now owned byJannina and John-Paul Norpoth. Has been staying in this house, pending its renovation.
A lot of people started losing their houses. They started putting out stuff that gave me memories of when I was a kid and lived on the block. So instead of me watching it go in the dumpster, I started collecting it. Then one day I just get the idea that we’ll set some of this stuff up. I was the super at that building on the corner, so I started the tag sale in the garage. I had a 1926 grand piano in there, and everybody wanted to come in and take pictures. From there, people started coming by. I got so many elders: “Oh, baby, I got so much stuff in my basement. If you want you can come see what you want to have.” So I kept going from there. And when they sold that building, I had to move down here.
When the owner of this house passed, someone broke in and they were trying to ghost-sell it. You know, you got at brownstone and it’s empty, right? A few people see it’s empty, keep an eye on it for a couple of months. Then they’ll go in it with equipment like they’re actually fixing the house up. They were tearing the floors up upstairs, tearing the walls out, trying to put down new floors, put some new plumbing in — just to make it enough where you could show it to somebody. First, me and my brothers, we escorted them off the block. Then they introduced me to his heirs. And since I used to take care of the other building, they asked me if I would take care of this place. So I’ve been taking care of this place since then.
A few months later, I was in here to check, and someone was knocking on the window: “Hey, get out of my house.” I said, “How is this your house when I have papers stamped in court saying I’m guardian of the property for the proprietor?” It’s the same guy trying to take it with his son. They’re drunk. They’re trying to talk about, “You got to get out of here. This is our house.” The old guy took a swing at me. I ducked and swung back at him, and his son grabbed him, and they jumped in the car. So I had security gates screwed into the inside.
I grew up [down the block]. I was 8 when we got here. We didn’t have all these trees. They planted these trees in ’76. They were here when I came back from the military. I remember when they put them up, we had a guy named Buddy, he used to get drunk on Wild Irish Rose and karate fight with the trees.
Once I met Doc, all of us got together — me, Doc, Butch, and Brother. We were tight. We were like the Four Musketeers for years. We used to play stickball, skully, or football — everything, up and down this block. We’d play against other blocks, you know, for pride. All the parents would come out and watch. Now how am I going to throw a ball from this lamppost to that lamppost with all these trees here!
So if I did something on that corner, I’d get dragged all the way up to here. And they would pop me a few times. And then you get home, and they tell your mama and your mama would put you on punishment until your daddy got home. That’s when you sit there quietly because you want Mamma to forget and not tell Daddy because you’re going get your butt whipped. That’s how it used to be. Look, that’s how we were raised. Because if something bad happens to your kid, and I’m out there, you’re going to wonder why I didn’t help your child.
My family can’t stay here with me ’cause there’s plumbing needs to be done. I fill buckets up and keep them in the bathroom. I wouldn’t have my babies here. So they have to stay in the shelter. And the shelter is actually a private apartment building, but you got a curfew, you can’t leave, you can’t have nobody come in, can’t bring your own furniture, you can only have two bags of clothes per person. While my wife and daughters are there, I take care of this place, make some money to pay for a new place. I gotta relocate my family upstate. My son—with nothing to do, hanging out on the street—got his butt in trouble. And he’s up that way ’til January. We’ll be up there until then to be near him and then we’ll move on.